Category Archives: Recipes

Charcuterie: Making Bacon – Part 1


Early in July, I had the pleasure of tucking into a charcuterie plate at Juniper restaurant. I remember only a few things – house ham, duck something – but everything on the plate was wonderfully tasty! Charcuterie dominated my brain in the following days and it wasn’t long till some research on the subject had me searching for the book Charcuterie, by Michael Ruhlman. A trip to Chapters on Rideau Street put the book in my hands last week and then the hunt began …

I decided to make the first thing addressed in the book – bacon! The required sugar and kosher salt posed no problem but coming up with curing salt and pork belly took some work.

I knew from past experience that pork belly can be had from the local butcher store but has to be ordered and comes at high cost. A Toronto website listed T & T Asian Supermarket as a pork belly source and when I checked our Ottawa T & T store there it was – in approximately one-kilo chunks, at a very reasonable price!

Another site suggested Nicastro’s Italian deli as a source for curing salt and I was able to find it at their Merivale Road location, in a one-kilo bag labeled ReadyCure.

Curing Salt

Now, American recipes (like the ones in the book) call for a product called pink salt or InstaCure, which are 6.25% nitrite. The ReadyCure package didn’t list the percentage of nitrite, nor did the store staff know it, however, the package listed the Toronto manufacturer’s phone number and a quick call revealed it to be 1% nitrite.

After some wish-I-could-say-they-were-quick calculations, I was able to determine that, if I added 600 grams of kosher salt and 675 grams of sugar to my kilo of ReadyCure, I’d have three times the amount of Ruhlman’s basic dry cure (plus a bit more), at the correct percentage of nitrite. So this I did.

I’d picked up two pieces of pork belly and opted for slightly different treatments for each. The first one was dredged in approximately 75 grams of the basic dry cure and sealed in a large Ziplock bag. I did the same to the second one, but added about a quarter-cup of maple syrup. (I’ve a hunch I’ll prefer that one!)

So now it’s a 7-day waiting game, give-or-take a day perhaps, apart from a quick flip of each bag every other day. The meat will leach liquid and firm up over time. Once cured enough, it’ll be time to drain the liquid, rinse the meat, then roast or smoke it, low ‘n slow, to an internal temp of 150 degrees F. I’ve a week to sort out which it will be – while I’d far prefer to smoke it, I’m not sure I have the capability to do it as low ‘n slow as it needs to be done.

Watch for the follow-up to see which method wins and find out how each version tastes once sliced and fried. I sense it’s to be, for me, a rather long week of impatient anticipation. Hope it’s worth it!

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The Go-To Recipe for Blue Cheese Lovers

This is one of my favourites – simple, fast & easy – and there’s nothing better when I want a decent meal fast, without much fuss or effort.

Adaptable too – you’ll see.

Enjoy!

Blue Cheese Pesto Pasta

There are really only three main ingredients here. All else is just optional additions that enhance the dish or vary it from one time to the next

Main Ingredients:

whipping cream
pesto sauce
blue cheese

Now, I’ve not given quantities because it really depends on whether you’re cooking for two or twenty, but, as a rough guide, half to three-quarters of a pint of cream is good for at least four servings.

Pesto sauce – use what ever sauce you like, whether it’s your own, fresh or frozen, or store-bought. You’ll add to your own taste anywhere from ¼ to ½ the volume of cream you are using. I’ve found a new store-bought one I really like – it’s fresher than the bottled varieties and comes refrigerated, in a squeeze packet.

The blue cheese I use is an inexpensive Danish one that crumbles nicely. Use whichever one you like or find available, just don’t go to great expense – there’s no need!

Preparation:

Put cream in a saucepan over medium heat.
Stir in pesto, to taste.
Crumble a nice amount of blue cheese, add to pot and stir occasionally, till the cheese dissolves.

That’s it!

Not enough sauce?
Add more ingredients.

Not the right balance of flavour?
Adjust.

Really, that’s it … almost …

Though this sauce, over any cooked pasta of your choosing, is great on its own, it hits another level if you add some diced fresh tomato and grated parmesan – fresh-grated (or shaved) if possible, but I’ve been know to resort to the green-can stuff when that’s all that’s on hand.

Got fresh basil?
A few leaves on top make things pretty.

Missing meat?
Some leftover chicken’s a nice addition on top of the dish, as is some thinly sliced rare roast beef or steak, or some leftover strips of bacon fried up and crumbled on top.

So, boil up your pasta, pour yourself a nice glass of wine and have fun experimenting with toppings, but most of all, enjoy!

Sweet ‘n Golden Cornbread

I love cornbread but many recipes for it seem to give gritty or dry results.

I created this recipe from combining things I liked from others, along with added twists and tricks, and I’m really pleased with the results. (I’d have posted a photo but it disappeared too fast!)

It’s sweet in the way only brown sugar can make it.

Soaking the cornmeal, an old trick of my grandmother’s, is a step that seems to be missing from many modern cornbread recipes but it’s what keeps it from ending up gritty.

The sour cream, like buttermilk, softens and moistens and I’m more likely to have it on hand than buttermilk so that’s why it’s there – you can replace the sour cream, the sweet milk or both with buttermilk if that suits you better.

There’s plenty here that makes it moist but cornbread dries quick if the least bit overdone so don’t overdo it – if it happens though, just slather on a bit more butter and be more liberal with the maple syrup! And enjoy!

Sweet Cornbread

Ingredients

Stage 1 –
1¼ cup yellow cornmeal
½ cup milk
½ cup sour cream

Stage 2 –
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. and 1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda

Stage 3 –
2/3 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
¼ cup vegetable oil
¼ cup butter (salted), melted

Directions

Stage 1 –
In a large bowl, combine cornmeal with milk & sour cream; let soak for 20 to 25 minutes.

Meanwhile …

Stage 2 –
Lightly grease and flour a 8-inch square cake pan.
In a medium bowl, combine flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda, blending well.

After 20 (or so) minutes …

Stage 3 –
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.
Add egg, brown sugar, vegetable oil and melted butter to cornmeal mixture and stir until well combined.
Add flour mixture to wet ingredients and stir just until mixed
Pour batter into prepared pan.
Bake at 375 F for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in center of the cake comes out clean.

Enjoy while still warm, with a bit of butter … and a lot of maple syrup!

Banana & Brown Sugar Muffins with Pecans


(see recipe below)
What better on a lovely lazy Sunday morning than fresh-baked muffins still warm from the oven?

I had a bunch of blackening bananas and decided to give these a try this morning. They’re incredibly easy and quick to make and, best of all, absolutely delicious! And a great thing about them too is that if you don’t like nuts or can’t have them, you can easily leave them off as they’re only there as a topping.

Not having buttermilk on hand (why don’t they sell it in tiny containers as most recipes call for very little and there’s no way I could ever stand to drink the stuff?!), I decided the sour cream I had in the fridge would be a good substitiute. It was! Give these a try – you won’t regret it. And don’t bother with an electric mixer. Nothing here requires high speed beating and hand mixing is better for you anyway since these are not low-cal muffins … better by far than the grocery store variety (I read the store labels) but still not diet food.

Note: I made 6 giant muffins instead of the regular 12, with a longer baking time of 40 minutes.

Recipe

Ingredients

1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup firmly packed brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 cup mashed ripe bananas (approximately 2 large ones)
1/4 cup buttermilk (I substituted sour cream but they’d be just fine with plain milk too)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup toasted chopped pecans

1. In a large mixing bowl, cream butter; gradually add brown sugar, beating well. Add eggs and beat until blended.
2. In a second smaller bowl, mash the bananas and mix in buttermilk and vanilla.
3. In a third smaller bowl, mix all dry ingredients together, excluding the nuts.
3. Add dry ingredients to butter mixture alternately with banana mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients, beating just until blended after each addition. (Do not overbeat.)
4. Spoon batter into 12 regular or 6 jumbo lightly-greased (or paper-muffin-cup-lined) muffin cups, distributed evenly.
5. Sprinkle with the toasted pecans.
6. Bake at 350°F for 20 to 25 minutes for 12 muffins (or 35 to 40 minutes for 6) or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean.
7. Remove from pans after they have been out of the oven for 2 or 3 minutes and continue to cool on wire racks.

It starts like this …

Plum puddings, deliciously over-indulgent and smacking of an old-fashioned Dickensian Christmas, are, as most culinary delights, best homemade. Many who make them start months in advance but my version takes only five days, three of which require minimal input of less than two minutes! Because I was behind on everything this year, they weren’t ready by Christmas day but since shifting to celebrating Twelve Days of Yuletide – which I count as beginning on Winter Solstice and ending on New year’s Day – completion and consumption at any point in that time period is fine with me.

Fruits, nuts & brandy

It starts like this, with dried cranberries, raisins, currants and orange peel, ground hazelnuts, chopped apples and lots of brandy. Peeling and chopping the apples is the biggest part of Day 1 assembly. I try to recruit others to help with this task and if I’m really lucky I pass it off entirely to someone else. I had a bit of help this time round.

Spices, flour and bread crumbs are added next, then the mixture is left to sit for a few days, with a healthy feed of brandy each day. It ends up looking a bit less than wonderful at this point but the aroma makes up for it. Though I ended up adding the crumbs and flour only on Day 4 the final result seemed none the worse for it. This kind of flexibility I like!

Day 5 – and it could also be Day 4, or 6 or 7, again, that lovely flexibility – eggs and butter are beaten in and then the mixture goes into the pudding moulds.

This year, I finally bought a real pudding mould, designed specially for this purpose! It’s made of a very sturdy gauge of aluminum and comes with a lid that eliminates the need for fussing with string (you’ll see that on the next one).

Having recently stumbled upon instructions for steaming puddings in the microwave in a fraction of the usual time, we prepared some smaller ones to try that way too so that we could compare the results. We just used ordinary kitchen bowls and tied on parchment paper tops.

The first top blew off with a bang so a second lid, with a generous fold to allow for expansion, was hastily installed. That one worked! This method takes anywhere from 20 to 35 minutes, depending on the size of the pudding.

For traditional steaming, the big mould was placed in a pot, on a trivet, and boiling water added halfway up the side of the mould. Jamie Oliver’s mortar (or is it the pestle?) was put to good use in weighting down the lid. This method took three hours of steaming, with several water top-ups.

During this time, we made an orange liqueur hard sauce to serve with the pudding.

The end results were both wonderfully delicious! The traditionally-steamed pudding seemed to have a slight edge in colour and texture but they both tasted exactly the same and most people would have a hard time telling the difference.

For looks, however, the one made in the pudding mould was the clear winner. Beautiful!

It was then carted off to a family Boxing Day dinner where, once on display, it disappeared fast, with many lovely compliments on both its looks and taste.

I haven’t posted the recipe as this post is already long – if you would like it, leave a comment and I’ll add it.

Six Went Out & Six Came Back

Chocolate Almond-Apricot Cookies


I baked …

Outgoing Cookies


I packed … one dozen cookies in each vase, along with some chocolate cherry cookies (see my previous posting) and a seasonal decoration …

Incoming Cookies

… and at the end of our annual cookie exchange, I came home with the bounty seen in this next photo!
I’ve resisted sampling so far and will put them in the freezer tonight to remove temptation so they’re still around at holiday time. They all look delicious!

Chocolate Cherry Cupcake Cookies


For seven years, a group of us from work have held an annual cookie exchange. While we’ve moved off in different work directions and some in the group are now retired, we’ve grown closer as friends and always enjoy meeting for great food (we take turns hosting), great conversation and great cookies – and a nice afternoon off for those of us still working. Some years, we’ve driven through snowstorms to meet!

These – really more of a mini cupcake than a cookie – are one of two kinds I baked this year. I’m not even that fond of maraschinos but they looked so good and so different I decided to give them a try and I’m glad I did – not only do they look great on a cookie tray, they deliver in flavour and are really easy to make too.

They’re my new favourite!

(The recipe comes from a 1997 Better Homes and Gardens Christmas Cookies magazine.)

Chocolate Cherry Cookies

Cookie ingredients:
48 maraschino cherries with stems (10 ounce jar)
2 Tbsp cherry brandy or maraschino cherry juice
½ cup butter
1 cup sugar
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder (I used Ruddy Red alkalized cocoa powder)
¼ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp baking powder
1 egg
1½ cups all-purpose flour

Frosting ingredients:
½ cup semi-sweet chocolate pieces
1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk

Also:
48 1-inch foil cups

Instructions:
Drain cherries well, reserving juice.
(If using cherry brandy: place drained cherries in a bowl, toss with the brandy and let soak for 30 minutes, stirring once or twice. Drain again.)

Beat butter on medium-high for 30 seconds.
Add sugar, cocoa, baking powder and baking soda and beat till combined.
Beat in egg and 1 tsp reserved cherry juice.
Beat in flour.

Shape dough into a log and cut into quarters.
Roll each quarter into smaller logs and cut them into quarters.
Cut each of these (16) pieces into three equal parts.
You now have 48 small chunks.

Roll each chunk into a ball, press with your thumb into a cup shape, place a cherry in the indent and shape the dough around the cherry to cover it.
Place each cherry ball in a foil cup and place the cups on a baking sheet, leaving some space between them.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 10 to 12 minutes, or until tops look dry.

Meanwhile, make the frosting; in a small saucepan, stir together ½ cup semi-sweet chocolate pieces and 1/3 cup sweetened condensed milk and heat on low, stirring occasionally, till chocolate is melted. Remove from heat and stir in 1 Tbsp reserved cherry juice (I also added a small quantity – maybe ¼ tsp – of almond extract).

Frost while still warm.

Try ’em and let me know what you think!